Bob Lind is best remembered for penning and recording “Elusive Butterfly” which reached number 5 on the national charts and has worn well over the years. But he’s far from a one-hit wonder. More than 200 artists have covered his songs including Cher, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, The Four Tops, The Kingston Trio, Dolly Parton, Marianne Faithful and Johnny Mathis. That’s a testament to Bob’s knack for writing poignant and purposeful lyrics effused with messages about being human in an oftentimes inhumane world.
Mr. Lind “semi-retired” from the music business at the end of the 60’s, wrote several novels and even wrote for the bizarre supermarket tabloids Weekly World News and Sun. Then, in 2004, Bob started his own website and began to reinvent his career. Long time friend Arlo Guthrie invited him to play the Guthrie Center in Massachusetts. Since then there has been a renewed interest in Bob’s work including reissuing earlier albums on CD for the first time, a more recent live CD and even a novel, East Of The Holyland.
Bob, at 60 some odd years young, you don’t appear to be slowing down at all. To what do you attribute this new found energy and passion for performing and writing?
Well, it’s really not that the energy and passion are “new-found.” I’ve always written and I’ve always loved the simple act of playing my music for people who get it. The problem was that, for a long time, I just couldn’t stomach the “biz:” the slimy weasels who see nothing in music but the chance to wring dollars out of something beautiful. I got sick of standing by and letting morons in suits — all glib talk and no soul — make creative decisions about my music. I just got full to the vomiting point of the limitations the money boys were setting on me. So, since the majority of my income is derived from my songwriting royalties, I saw no reason to continue to deal with these clueless posers and I opted to drop out of the game for 15 years or so.
This decision was, of course, cowardly and short-sighted, aided by my romantic entanglement with drugs and alcohol. After I sobered up, it became clear that everyone I respect — all artists with depth and integrity who have survived in the industry — have had their battles with the sharks. The difference is that they had the courage and tough-hidedness to persist and endure while I ran away.
So I poked my head cautiously out of my subterranean isolation and found that the business had changed (marginally) and that there might actually be a place for me in it.
How has it changed? What exactly is different this time around versus the late 60’s?
It’s changed in two significant ways:
First, autonomy is possible now in a way that it wasn’t before. You can be almost totally hands-on. Largely because of the Internet. In the 60s and 70s, you had to go to the recording companies with your hat in your hands. Fear-driven executives told you what they would and would not finance. If you were an artist whose records were likely to sell under-Platinum, they wouldn’t back you. That’s still the way it is at the upper levels. They want you to hit the home run for them every time up.
But now there’s a place for those of us whose music touches not millions of people a little bit, but a few people a lot.
I recorded my live album (I still call them albums) for something like 300 bucks. I had it pressed and packaged by DiscMakers and I advertise it on my website. Nobody dictated to me what songs to include or what changes to make — in the packaging or the recording.
Naturally, I have to accept coming up short on the distribution end. But that’s okay with me. I’m proud of that CD and fans who hear it know they’re getting the undiluted truth.
That’s what matters to me. Main-streamers whose tastes are shaped by head-banging rock may well find it limp-dick and lifeless. Softies who like sugary pop may feel it’s not slick enough. But there’s a power in those songs that touch people who “get” them on a deep, deep level. That’s the only thing I care about.
Any lessons you learned that you don’t want to repeat?
I think I’ve learned to love my fans and my audiences. That’s the biggest change: my love and respect for the people who come to hear me. When I was in that paranoid alcohol and drug fog, I didn’t really trust my writing. I didn’t see it as a gift. I felt like a phony and I lived in constant fear that people would find me out. If I played to a full room, I would say “What do these people want from me?” They scared me because I assumed they were judging me.
Now, I’ve evolved. I’m a better writer now and a better performer. I have more empathy for my audiences and more respect for myself. Today, I understand what they see in me. If I weren’t me and I heard me sing my songs, I would like me too.
What about a whole new generation of fans? Must be really cool to be reaching younger listeners.
Yes. It’s beautiful. I’m amazed when I do these Indie clubs and realize these 20-somethings are getting me. When I played Little Pedro’s in L.A. Neil Hamberger and Meg White came to hear me. When I did the Knockout Room in San Francisco, it was full of rockers who had no idea who Bob Lind was. But they not only treated me with respect and gave me their genuine attention, but they felt me too.
After that San Francisco show a little 18-year-old girl came back with tears in her eyes and said, “To tell you the truth, I’ve never heard of you. I came with friends. But I’m not going to forget hearing you. I think you’re great.”
I love that.
But it says as much about them and their openness as it does about me. I respect these people for their open-heartedness.
You are on the road quite a bit playing gigs across the country and in other countries. England, in particular, seems to have a soft spot for Bob Lind. Do the British have a keener ear and appreciation for folk music or just quality music in general?
I think the operative word here is indeed, “general.” I don’t want anyone to get the idea that all Americans lack range or depth. (See my answer above about the Indie crowd.) There are pockets of perceptive listeners in this country who can still hear songs and form their own opinions. But in general, people in the U.S. are bullied and brainwashed by media and advertising. They’re “sold” what to like and what to consider “uncool.”
European audiences see music as art; not as pop-driven entertainment. In general, Europeans have more eclectic tastes.
The End of the Road Festival in Dorset, that I just played in September is like nothing in the states. Simon, the guy who runs it, is fearless. He assembles unique bands and artists, few of whom have big names but all of whom have devoted cult followings. These people are playing original, heartfelt music. Fans come because they know they’re going to get something out-of-the-ordinary — which isn’t the same as saying just weird and avant garde. People in England respect artistry, not record sales.
Speaking of The End of the Road Festival, Brit Megastars Jarvis Cocker and Richard Hawley joined you onstage there. Since I’m a fan of the latter, tell me how you two got along and any story or stories you’d like to share about Mr. Hawley.
Both Jarvis and Richard are two of the most rare and generous souls on Earth. I can’t say enough good about either one of them.
I’m really not that close with Jarvis because he’s a shy person who tends to listen and observe rather talk in social situations. At least he’s shy with me.
Richard is more outspoken so I’ve really become closer to him.
The story on them is that they’re childhood friends from Sheffield. They’ve played in bands together (notably Pulp). They grew up listening to my songs and both of them credit me with influencing their musical styles. Of course now they’ve found their own styles, they’re both completely unique. But early on they listened to my records and felt what I was doing.
About three years ago, out of the blue, I got an email from Jarvis. Like many Americans, I had no idea who he was or that he was as famous over there as Tom Petty is over here. He said he had written and recorded a song with his band, Pulp, that was heavily influenced by me. He said they were about to release it and had always called it just “That Bob Lind thing.” He asked if I would mind if he titled it “Bob Lind” as a sort of tribute to me.
Naturally I was honored.
Then some fans told me about another ultra-famous Brit rocker, Richard Hawley, who had been constantly praising me in interviews.
When I heard his music I was blown away. Like you I became a fan.
Anyway, I’m taking too long to answer this question. To get to the point: I find Richard to be as humble and down to earth as he is talented (and that’s saying something). They had nothing to gain by coming onstage with me at the EotR. It was just something they wanted to do. We had a great time and their presence gave me an invaluable leg-up with British audiences.
What many people don’t know about Richard is that his career and even his art are a distant second to his family. I met his wife and several of his kids at the festival and he’s a great husband and father. Family life gives him a great perspective on his life.
Is it much different performing overseas than here in the States? Are your groupies loyal, i.e. following you from show to show and backstage for all night parties?
Fans are great everywhere — at least the ones who come to hear me. It’s just that there are more of them in Europe. As mentioned, I’m not trendy, not a celebrity. So no one is driven to come to hear me because it’s the popular thing to do.
Fans — both here and in Europe — come because my music moves them.
Letting the whole “groupies” and “all-night parties” aspects of the question alone (Really do you think I’d tell you the truth about that? ), Lind fans often do drive long distances to hear my shows. And that’s a real honor, one I don’t take lightly.
I’d like to ask a few questions about your songwriting style. Who has had the greatest musical influence on you in your life?
I really can’t narrow it down. So many writers have inspired me. So have poets and playwrights. By this time I’ve internalized them. I’m really better off letting other people cite my influences. Several critics have pointed out that they hear Gene Autry in my voice. And it’s true that he was one of the first singers I ever listened to.
Has composing changed for you over the years or do you approach your craft the same as you always have?
I believe my songwriting has changed over the years. It’s gotten more accessible and less self-indulgent. I’m more honest now and more willing to reveal things I was too “cool’ to show in my 20s.
Plus, in my own opinion, the craft has improved. My lyrics have more impact because I’m more patient now. I’m willing to wait for the right line and I don’t rush my songs to a premature end like I did in my gushy 20s.
I read in a previous interview that you find places of “quiet” to create songs. What are some of those places?
In that interview, I was talking about finding the quiet places inside, not necessarily places in the geographic sense with no city noise. I believe what I said was that I’ve learned how to relax and shut off the noise in my mind. I believe every writer worthy of the name has to be able to find that silent place inside himself where he can hear the voice that speaks only to him.
But it is true that the Everglades has a calming effect on me and when things get too frantic in the city, I enjoy going out there away from everything.
When I walk in the glades, I never fail to come back more peaceful than I was when I left.
I imagine being a solo artist allows you more freedom in creating your own way without having to compromise or have a “meeting of the minds”.
Yes. I’m not a good collaborator. Bobby does not play well with others.
You not only play guitar, but also have become quite adept at tenor sax. Are there some jazz leanings there?
Good observation, Greg. Yes. That’s another change in my music now. You flatter me by calling me “adept” at tenor sax. But learning to play has opened my melodic horizons.
You released the limited edition CD “Bob Lind Live at the Luna Star Cafe” in 2006 to very favorable reviews. What is your take on that performance? How did you choose the songs you wanted on that recording?
We talked about this record earlier so I’ll be brief here. Actually we taped the whole 90-minute set and I just released the songs that came out best — performance-wise AND recording-wise.
As I say, I’m happy with it, but I’m ready to do another album.
Of your newer material, which songs are your favorites?
Way too tough to narrow down. I like different songs when I’m in different moods. The hardest choice I make these days is which songs to leave out of a set and which to include.
In 2008 you wrote and published a novel East Of The Holyland How long did it take you to complete this work?
Well that’s only half true. I published HOLYLAND in 2008, but it was written circa 1986-87. It languished unpublished for those 21 years. Then, thanks to fans on my web site nagging me half to death, I released it pretty much as it was originally written. The only real edits were for punctuation and language clarity.
I wrote it pretty fast. It took me about five months of writing six or seven hours a day.
Would you say it might be an autobiography in a sense?
No. It’s a novel plain and simple. The main character is based on me at that time (1964). The others are composites and creations. Most of the events in the book never actually took place. But I’m hoping the “feel” of it duplicates the Denver Coffee House scene during the last years of the Folk Music boom.
Any other writings in the works?
Always. I’m always working on songs. And lately I’ve gone back to play-writing. But I don’t really like to talk about works in progress because the energy gets dissipated.
What are the differences in writing music and writing literature?
In some ways, there are no differences at all, for me at least. Both require a soul-deep honesty and the willingness to go to some uncomfortable places inside.
But if you mean technically. I have a lot more freedom in a novel, play or even a short story. In songs you have to make every word count.
In longer works you have a little more leeway for long-windedness — but not much. Readers won’t sit still for a lot of rambling.
Interviews like this are about the only genre of self-expression in which I allow myself to meander from pillar to post. I’m more conversational and chatty in these things than I am in my disciplined writings.
According to your website, filmmakers Paul Surratt and Ian Marshall are completing a documentary about you. How were you approached to “assist” in this film?
Paul and Ian are long-time fans who got in touch with me back in 2005. They wanted to bring me out to L.A. to do a show at a place called Little Pedro’s. The plan was they would promote the show and tape it, then release it as a simple concert tape.
But as we talked on the phone, they brought up the possibility of expanding it and making it a larger work. Thus, the Bob Lind documentary idea was hatched.
So I went out there in 2006 and did a series of shows at not only Little Pedro’s but also The Coffee Gallery, McCabes and an informal concert done for a small group of fans at a TV studio.
They interviewed me and just about everyone I know — including my ex-wife, which should be fun.
What is the status on production? When can we hope to see Bob Lind on the big screen?
They’re still cutting it together and looking for backing.
These guys are noted filmmakers. You may have seen Paul’s film on The Kingston Trio. It runs regularly on PBS. And he also did The Making of A Hard Day’s Night and the definitive movie about the Carpenters.
The difference is that backing was built into those other projects. People were more than willing to finance those films because their subjects were/are famous.
I think I’m the first non-celebrity they’ve selected. It’s a labor of love with them. But no one outside a small, dedicated circle has heard of me. So financing is tough.
For a long time, it looked like it was close to being done, then it kept getting bogged down for lack of capital. It was supposed to be done by the end of 2007, then the end of 2008, then the end of 2009.
Now I’m not going to risk predicting a release date.
I’ll just say the guys have balls the size of boulders to even take on a project like this and it will have loads of heart in it.
Also, you have been asked to add commentary to an upcoming documentary on Jack Nitzsche. I won’t ask you about your relationship with Jack other than to say I hope time has healed some old wounds and that your contribution will be enlightening.
In case your readers are interested, I wrote a whole piece on Jack for Martin Roberts’ SPECTROPOP. Here’s the link:
Are there any artists that you like or listen to these days?
Plenty. When my day is over, I sign onto YouTube and spend my non-writing hours listening to and watching music video clips.
I go kid-in-candy-shop crazy with that site. I watch a wide variety of people. But right off the top of my noggin, here are some that come to mind.
Of the older, “classic” people, I like to listen to Jackson Browne, Richie Havens, Don Henley, Stephen Bishop and Bonnie Raitt.
Of the newer crop, I like Jason Mraz, John Mayer and Sara Bareilles (man don’t you love that “Not Gonna Write You A Love Song?”)
I mentioned Richard Hawley and Jarvis.
I also listen to a lot of jazz: Coltrane, Houston Person, Miles Davis, Bird, Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins.
How’s life treating you? Are you fairly happy with the way things are going for you at this point in your career?
I’m having a great time. Life isn’t perfect. I do want to do a new CD and work more gigs. But that desire is what keeps me at it.
And lastly, Bob, what advice do you have for anyone just starting out that would like to get into the music business.
I’m probably the last guy in the world to ask. But since you ARE asking, I would say, decide on a code of ethics and stick to it. Don’t let the shallow second-guessers make your creative decisions for you, and be prepared to take the ugliness with the beauty.
It’s easy to get jaded and cynical in this business. But nothing will kill your creativity deader.
For more on Bob Lind, check out his website at boblind.com